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The Zika Scare: a Political and Commercial Maneuver of the Chemical Poisons Industry

Aedes aegypti mosquito potentially carrying the Zika virus. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Researchers discovered the Zika virus in the Zika forest of Uganda – in 1947. It is a virus not much different than the viruses causing dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, West Nile fever, and St. Luis encephalitis. The Zika virus eventually spread throughout most of the world. Mosquitoes carry and spread the Zika virus. But for decades the Zika disease afflicting humans was free of brain deform or the shrinking of the infant’s brain  known as microcephaly (a Greek term meaning tiny brain-head).

The 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

I heard the name Zika for the first time in 2016 during the Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Reporting on the PBS Newshour offered warnings for those going to Brazil. Other large media went almost berserk. They were shouting that women near the Olympics site were giving birth to babies with tiny brains. They blamed Zika virus. They blamed the mosquitoes for the malformation of the brain of the babies. The Olympics should be delayed or moved to another country. Brazil was dangerous.

Imagine hundreds of athletes and hundreds of thousands of tourists returning to Europe and the  United States with this dreadful Zika disease, especially pregnant women likely giving birth to deformed babies.

Astonishing as these unverified news stories were, government agencies rushed to give them credence. I heard representatives of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention repeating the questionable newspaper and TV stories about the Zika virus. In addition, CDC keeps saying that fighting Zika virus-carrying mosquitoes in Brazil and Florida with a neurotoxin named “naled” is harmless. After all, farmers and mosquito controllers have been spraying naled for more than fifty years in the United States.

CDC said nothing about the deleterious effects of naled: that this chemical is an organophosphate compound linked to chemical warfare agents: targeting and harming the central nervous system and the brain of man and beast, of birds and insects and fish, of all wild animals.

So, what caused the tiny brains of Brazilian babies during the 2016 Summer Olympics? The Zika virus-infected mosquitoes or pesticides sprayed intensely in the environment, including in the drinking water of the urban slum mothers afflicted by the Zika virus?

Poverty and Poisons

A Berkeley team of scientists published a 2017 study in which they said: “Zika is, and will continue to be, a disease of the urban poor.” A group of physicians from Argentina and Brazil had already explained why.

In a February 2016 report, they argued that the Zika disease in Brazil, and other tropical countries, is not simply a disease of infected mosquitoes stinging pregnant women. They saw the Zika disease as a symptom of a much larger pathology: that of deforestation, the destruction of flora and fauna, massive pesticide sprayings of the natural world and cities, ecological imbalance, global warming and inequality.

Furthermore, these physicians say the massive air spraying of toxic pesticides against mosquitoes is “criminal” and “useless”: nothing but a political and a commercial maneuver of the chemical poisons industry.

They reported that there are countries like Colombia where the Zika virus causes disease but not microcephaly. In Brazil, however, the population that suffers from the Zika virus disease and, potentially, from microcephaly, has been drinking water intentionally treated with pyriproxyfen. This is a potent teratogen that causes monstrous changes in the development of the mosquito, foreclosing its chance of growing normally.

Pyriproxyfen: Insect and Human Growth Regulator?

Experts describe pyriproxyfen as an “insect growth regulator” – an apt name for a chemical made up of insect parts and chemicals formulated into a biological bomb: destroying the insect from within: wrecking the insect’s embryogenesis and metamorphosis to adult.

This powerful biological weapon — that annihilates mosquitoes or other insects – is not benign to humans drinking it in their water or exposed to it in any other way like in spraying it against mosquitoes. In fact, it harms human blood and the liver.

The real danger of pyriproxyfen, however, comes from what it does to developing mosquitoes: giving them malformations, which cause “death or incapacity.” The developing mosquito can’t grow wings or mature external genitalia. It moves to death through its disrupted evolution to a nymph or larva. Pyriproxyfen makes it impossible for the developing mosquito to become an adult.

The physicians from Argentina and Brazil urge us to get off our horse of hubris and think in biological terms. About 60 percent of our genes are identical to the genes of insects like the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that potentially carry the Zika virus. In addition, they emphasize our evolution – going from the zygote to embryo to fetus to newborn — is not that much different than the development process of the mosquito: larva-pupa-adult.

The implications of this biology, including the effects of pyriproxyfen on mosquitoes, are frightening. It is not out of the question that, under certain conditions, like massive and chronic sprayings of the environment, pyriproxyfen could probably do to people what it does to mosquitoes. It has the potential of becoming a “human growth regulator.” Is microcephaly one of the deadly consequences of that potential?

Environmental and Political Origins of Teratogens

“Malformations detected in thousands of children from pregnant women living in areas where the Brazilian state added pyriproxyfen to drinking water is not a coincidence, even though the Ministry of Health places a direct blame on Zika virus for this damage, while trying to ignore its responsibility and ruling out the hypothesis of direct and cumulative chemical damage caused by years of endocrine and immunological disruption of the affected population,” wrote the physicians from Argentina and Brazil.

What these scientists are saying is that Brazil, like the Unites States, is hooked on toxic sprays, used all over the country for decades. In about five years, vector control is projected to approach $ 20 billion per year earnings for the poisons industry.

Like America, Brazil, Argentina and other Latin American countries hire experts from the industry to run their mosquito spraying programs. These experts have been occupying key positions in ministries of health.

Second, the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization have vector control committees that decide what chemical should be sprayed in what country. The Argentinian and Brazilian physicians accuse these pesticide committees of “imperial” policies. They say the “hegemonic strategies” they advocate for “diseases spread by mosquitoes and multiplied by poverty” avoid the threats from bad sanitation, lack of safe drinking water, and responsible health policies. Instead, such programs rely entirely on the spraying of chemicals.

Such practices “demobilize the population” because they leave the people out of decisions, relying instead on the killing of mosquitoes. However, the sprays also affect the population, making people sick and weak. In addition, the sprays kill the natural predators of mosquitoes, which necessitate additional spraying, the only winners being the poisons industry.

Many of the chemicals targeting mosquitoes are endocrine disruptors, weakening the immune system of the exposed population. So, adding pyriproxyfen to that soup of chemicals and adding it to the drinking water and intimate environment of impoverished slum dwellers, you are asking for big trouble: the birth of babies with tiny brains.

“The governments of Mercosur [Mercado Comun del Sur – Southern Common Market of countries of South America] are causing alarm with the threat of Zika and microcephaly, proposing ‘more of the same.’ The agribusiness is offering the services of the ‘Soya Air Force’ to be used for spraying over cities and villages…. To social inequality, these epidemics will add health inequalities, and governments with their chemical attacks will generate environmental inequality,” wrote the physicians from Argentina and Brazil.

These inequalities are increasing ecological damage and the schism between the rulers and the ruled: the vast majority of the people. The rulers cover up the harms with the prestige of international health organizations, universities, business, experts – and the media. Brazil enforced its Zika policies with soldiers.

More articles by:

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of 6 books, including Poison Spring with Mckay Jenkings.

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